The Bearded Moon

The sun sets and night falls. Darkness blankets the land. This is the time when the gods turn aside from the mortal world and look to their own interests. In turn, men, women, and children must all seek solace in the warm and safe places. Thieves, Beasts, and demons stalk the open spaces, reveling in the secret times when they may wander with impunity. Yet there is one source of protection; one meek source of assistance for the kind souls of this world. This is the Bearded Moon; an entity poorly understood by the other gods and often little trusted by mortal men.

When the bearded moon rises it spreads its silvery glow across the land, illuminating the hidden things and the secrets lost in the nighttime darkness. Yet it is still associated by most with night and darkness and all the things which dwell within the terrible black.

The Bearded moon is so called because of the strange marring of the silvery skin across the lower half of its face. Whether these are scattered black rocks or some kind of vegetative growth is not known. Still the darkening of the lower half bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a great scraggly beard.

This moon differs from our own in two other ways: It is both larger, and thus brighter, and its cycle is nearly twice as long. These factors make for a greater disparity between moonless and moon-filled nights. The great bearded face of this moon is somewhat tilted, making the beard appear more slowly than the shining silver aspect. A complete lunar cycle takes roughly 7 weeks (as measured in Earth time.)

The Monks and their Order

Alternately referred to as 'Moon Mystics,' 'Bearded Monks,' and (their official name) 'Monks of the Bearded Moon,' these monks take their order very seriously. Each goes through many years of training and strict physical and mental ordeals. Only the most dedicated make it into the order itself; many fall by the wayside. But after having their minds cleansed and souls purified, the ones who make it are given the opportunity to learn many mysteries.

The monks have built their monasteries in the remote places of this world where they may more clearly follow the course of their great silvery deity. These remote places are difficult to reach and thus keep them as far away from the political realm as it is possible to be, given their abilities. They keep detailed charts of the moon's cycles and have written great volumes and treatises upon its many secrets and mysteries.

The moon monks can often be seen standing upon the high places of their secluded towers whilst chanting. They have many strange customs, these monks, and yet they are highly sought out and respected for their healing abilities and powers over the hidden things of the world.

Practices of the Bearded Monks

There is one strange ritual which these monks are especially known for: they grow and shave their beards in accordance with the phases of the bearded moon. Every new moon they all congregate to ritually remove all beards. As the new moon progresses so too do their beards. Smooth faces become whiskers as the first quarter approaches; whiskers become scraggly as the full moon arrives; scraggly becomes shaggy as the full moon passes. With the lessening of the light and the subsequent loss of the Bearded Moon's face, the monks prepare themselves for the monthly shaving. This event passes with much solemnity and rituals of great precision. On the day of the new moon, every monastery inhabited by the bearded monks goes through the same process of shearing all facial hair. Once completed, the monks join in prayers for the return of the moon's beard and wait for their own beards to once again grow out.

There are other holy days which the monks observe but none as sacredly as the beard rituals. Everything they do revolves around worship and respect for the moon. They live simple lives of quiet dedication. All are poor and live off of donations provided by visitors and supplicants. They grow some small amount of food, though their gardens must share space with healing herbs and the fabled moss called 'Old Man's Beard.' Visitors are always welcome to stop by and observe or to request assistance.

Effects of the Moon

The Bearded Moon is an entity akin to a god yet different in many respects. It has power and influences the world in supernatural ways, yet it is not anthropomorphic and will not respond to worship the way a true god might. Aside from the monks, only rare sorcerers of nefarious bent show any interest in the powers afforded by its silvery light. The moon offers the ability to see past the hidden and into the heart of things. This is not an easy power to gain, however, and many find easier methods with which to accomplish their aims. For those willing to dedicate themselves to mastering the difficult art of communing with that alien entity much is to be obtained. One may see into the true heart of any living thing. Eventually, the highly skilled are able to see the nature of an illness or pierce the murky depths of the many future possibilities that lie before us each of us.

For these reasons alone are the monks often sought out in order that they may heal the sick or help the lost upon their path. The truly grateful return with gifts of food, cloth, or other simple items which the monks are willing to accept. Occasionally, there are those who do not appreciate their fortunes and provoke anger upon the monks; yet the self-same mysterious reputations afford them protection from such ills.

Old Man's Beard and its Properties

By daylight, this simple-seeming moss appears in shades of green and gray. It hangs from tree branches and tends to proliferate more in the winter when the trees become bare of leaves. Old Man's Beard is a generic name given to many species of this moss. However, there is one strain which the monks of the Bearded Moon have been able to breed mystical properties. This particular strain grows only in the special orchards on monastery grounds and is tended using rituals and means known only to the monks.

At a glance, this strain of Old Man's Beard appears little different from the other varieties. However, under certain circumstances, this one exhibits qualities not seen elsewhere: when struck by the light of the silvery moon, the moss begins to glow as though releasing concentrated moonlight. The orchards bearing this plant are a beautiful sight on nights of the full moon.

Once per month, by the light of this full moon, the monks harvest small amounts of this potent moss. As with everything, the cutting of the moss takes place under special rituals and only at night when the moss glows at its brightest. When taken under such circumstances, the moss continues to glow, even after it has been cut. The clipped specimens are then placed in special pots and stored inside along with the other herbs collected by these monks. There the moss stays, glowing continuously, until used in their secret rituals of healing and prophecy. The monks have been known to make healing tinctures from this moss but they are quite careful about who receives such a potent gift.

History of the Order

While the Order of the Monks of the Bearded Moon goes back less than a thousand years, their progenitors hale from much, much further back in history. For many thousands of years, there existed a loosely aligned group of men and women who sought to understand the Bearded Moon. Masters taught apprentices and the rest met in small numbers whenever life conspired to bring them together. Much of the knowledge was fractured and contradictory. At last, with the founding of the Empire and the official recognition of the moon as a divine entity by the Emperor, the roaming mystics met together to discuss the founding of a new order so that they might better share their knowledge and skills amongst themselves. It was an easy transition for most, though a few did not welcome such a change. Over time the order grew into its present form. It will never be large or well understood, yet it serves its purpose well and has survived in its current form with very few changes for many hundreds of years.

Use in a Game

Plot Hooks

  • Gathering information as part of a quest: There are many types of adventures where the PCs must obtain more information before proceeding. The monks of the Bearded Moon may be just the right source to uncover the necessary details, assuming the PCs can make it to one of their secluded monasteries and successfully make their case. In return, the monks may need something themselves; an herb from an out-of-the-way mountain, for instance. There are many forms which the help may appear in, such as the location of a lost artifact, a hidden clue buried within a sunken ship, the name of a key figure who is in hiding, the summoning name of an elusive demon, or any other such hidden or hard-to-find thing or piece of information the PCs need. Remember: even though the monks might be able to uncover this information does not guarantee that they will share it. They may require proof of how the PCs will use it or they may have some need of their own that the PCs may be able to help them with.
  • Healing a comrade or essential NPC: The monks live in remote, hard-to-reach places. A PC or other person essential to the plot may become ill, poisoned, or otherwise injured, with the Bearded Monks as their only possible hope of survival. Such a plot would be a race against time. Can they get the injured person to the monks before it is too late? Will the monks be able to save him or her without additional help (such as another herb or other item)? Once in the monastery, the PCs may uncover some other mystery that will then lead them on to further adventures.
  • Lost Prince: A person of great importance disappeared several years ago. There has been an outstanding reward for this person's safe return but recent events (a sick king, word of assassins, etc) have caused new interest. The reward has increased (there may even be rewards from parties with conflicting interests) and everyone is on the trail. Through their investigation, the PCs are led to a small village in the vicinity of a Moon Beard monastery; after this the trail goes cold. Will they be able to figure out that the vanished prince has since taken the vows of a monk? Even if they do, how will they convince this person of the importance of returning home to the very things that caused him to run away in the first place?
  • Warned!: The PCs are called by a monk to visit the monastery. Someone important to one of the PCs was once healed by the monks and they are now calling in the favor: some terrible danger lurks which threatens either just the monks or something great (depending on the needs of the campaign) and the monks would like the PCs to stop it.
  • The Moon Sorceress: The monks mean well but there is a darker side to the moon's power. A moon sorceress has recently become a threat in this world. Where the monks have learned to heal and to use their visions for the improvement of the world, the moon sorceress know only how to steal health and to uncover secrets that will give her power over others. How do you defeat someone who is able to use visions to predict the PCs movements?

Use as Background in a Campaign

The Bearded Moon, the monks, and Old Man's Beard are all elements which can add depth to a world, even if they are not a regularly occurring part of it.

Moon Sorcerers

When the old moon mystics met to form the order not everyone was pleased with the decision. Some felt that codifying their knowledge would lessen their ability to freely explore the secrets of the moon. Some of these mystics had the best of intentions; their legacy may or may not still exist in this world. Others, however, did not wish to join because they did not wish to share power. These mystics were far more interested in gaining whatever personal power they could from the moon's darker side. And while these so-called 'Moon Sorcerers' are quite small in number (less than a handful are ever strong enough to pose any serious threat and nearly all prefer to work completely in secret) they do exist and have the potential to be quite formidable opponents.

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